Kansas Senate president dismisses criticism of Republican-drawn congressional map

By: - January 20, 2022 6:49 pm

Sen. Dinah Sykes, D-Lenexa, says the Ad Astra map proposed by Senate President Ty Masterson poses problems by dividing the Kansas City metro area and Kickapoo Indian reservation between congressional districts. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Senate President Ty Masterson met complaints about his proposed congressional district boundaries with a series of dismissive replies during a redistricting hearing Thursday.

Republicans in the Senate Redistricting Committee then forced a vote on the widely criticized map, which they approved along party lines in an evening hearing after hours of debate.

Democrats interrogated Masterson about his decision to divide Wyandotte County along Interstate 70, move Lawrence into a vast rural district that stretches to the Colorado border, and split the Kickapoo Indian reservation between two districts.

“Why was this?” Senate Minority Leader Dinah Sykes asked about the Kickapoo reservation. “What divides this group?”

“I consider them all Kansans,” Masterson said.

Rep. Christina Haswood, a Democrat and American Indian from Lawrence, responded on Twitter: “What an odd way to say you’re suppressing a Tribal community’s Sovereignty.”

After a three-hour break between two rounds of redistricting hearings, Masterson amended his map, dubbed Ad Astra, to keep the reservation in a single district.

Senate President Ty Masterson responds to criticism Thursday about his proposed congressional boundaries. (Screen capture by Kansas Reflector from Kansas Legislature Youtube channel)

Sykes, a Lenexa Democrat, pressed Masterson on a litany of other concerns.

“Given the economic, communication and health care interests of the KC metro, why do you feel the metro should be split into two congressional districts?” Sykes said.

“Math,” Masterson, an Andover Republican, said.

Why, Sykes asked, is the northern part of Wyandotte County — with the Legends shopping area, Sporting KC soccer team, and Hollywood Casino — different from the area south of I-70?

“It’s all based on population,” Masterson said.

Ethan Corson, a Fairway Democrat, asked Masterson if he realized that his proposed map, dubbed Ad Astra, would dilute the voting strength of minority populations in two districts.

“I disagree with that premise,” Masterson said. “I concede that it’s not possible in the state of Kansas to draw a majority minority district.”

The interrogation by Democrats followed blistering testimony from leaders of advocacy groups who said Masterson’s map was a joke and proof that Republicans had no interest in the input of residents who participated in town hall forums about the redistricting process.

Sen. Ethan Corson, D-Fairway, questions Senate President Ty Masterson during a redistricting hearing Thursday at the Statehouse in Topeka. (Screen capture by Kansas Reflector from Kansas Legislature Youtube channel)

A map proposed by Sykes would keep existing boundaries mostly in place, with adjustments to account for the migration of residents from rural to urban areas. Republicans criticized her map, known as United, for slicing off a section of southwest Johnson County that is outside of the greater Kansas City metro area.

Masterson said the four members of the current Kansas congressional delegation would retain their seats under his proposal, dubbed Ad Astra, based on 2020 election results: Rep. Tracey Mann in the vast and rural 1st District, Rep. Jake Laturner in the 2nd District, Sharice Davids in the Kansas City metro area 3rd District, and Rep. Ron Estes in the Wichita area 4th District.

The map would accomplish Republicans’ goal of making it more difficult for Davids to be re-elected and diminish the voting power of the diverse and liberal Lawrence. Davids is both an American Indian and member of the LGBTQ community.

“I gotta ask: Is this a serious map?” said Tom Witt, executive director of Equality Kansas, which lobbies for the LGBTQ community. “Somebody suggested to me yesterday that perhaps the people who came up with the Ad Astra map were just trying to troll the left.”

Masterson unveiled his map on Tuesday, along with a Republican in the House. That gave the public less than 24 hours to provide testimony for Thursday’s hearing. Census data for the map wasn’t made available until after the deadline for testimony.

A map proposed by Republicans in the House and Senate would place Lawrence in the 1st District, which stretches to the Colorado border, and split Wyandotte County between 2nd and 3rd districts. (Submitted)

Aileen Berquist, of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, said the two clear themes from town halls were that residents wanted to keep the Kansas City metro area in the same district, as is currently the case, and they wanted a fair and transparent process.

“The speed at which this committee moved from introduction to hearing is troubling,” Berquist said. “The lack of publicly available data to allow for a legitimate analysis of the maps provided is troubling. The complete disregard for the will of the people — who were very clear they wanted to keep the 3rd District together — is troubling.”

Mike Taylor, of the Voter Rights Network of Wyandotte County, said the Ad Astra map was “a classic example of gerrymandering.” There was no reason to split the community along I-70, he said.

“It clearly will dilute the minority vote of the most diverse county in the state of Kansas,” Taylor said.

Amy Carter, an Overland Park resident, said she didn’t always follow politics closely, especially at the state level. She “inherently trusted” that elected officials would be fair and maintain their integrity, she said. The Ad Astra map didn’t meet those expectations.

“What are you afraid of?” Carter said. “Can you not win on your own merits and ideas rather than using gerrymandering to choose your voters?”

One person who appeared before the committee expressed support for Masterson’s proposal.

John Anderson, of Prairie Village, said he favors the way the Ad Astra map pairs Johnson County with counties to the south. The people who live in those outlying communities work and shop in Johnson County, he said.

“The Ad Astra map creates a fair split by using a geographic barrier as the line,” Anderson said.

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Sherman Smith
Sherman Smith

Sherman Smith is the editor in chief of Kansas Reflector. He writes about things that powerful people don't want you to know. A two-time Kansas Press Association journalist of the year, his award-winning reporting includes stories about education, technology, foster care, voting, COVID-19, sex abuse, and access to reproductive health care. Before founding Kansas Reflector in 2020, he spent 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. He graduated from Emporia State University in 2004, back when the school still valued English and journalism. He was raised in the country at the end of a dead end road in Lyon County.